Category Archives: In transit

m e t e o r i t e

[ 15:58 wednesday 3 may – hydrofoil from stromboli to milazzo ]

a few minutes ago i embraced matteo, salvo and my other friends on stromboli then hauled my bags up the gangplank to the hydrofoil and gave a final salute as it pulled away from the quay. today the volcano is sombre with a dense white mass of cloud swirling around the top. every fifteen or twenty minutes a black stain appears in the cloud as an eruption blasts its lava, ash and gases into the air. the weather has been restless the last few days with the wind veering from south to west to north to south to west again and the sea switching rapidly between calm and crashing waves.

i arrived the day before easter with some slight trepidation. what would it be like to be with matteo again so soon after we broke up? would we want to see each other? would the pleasure of being on the island be impaired? within hours of arriving my anxiety had evaporated. matteo and i spent time together each day. sometimes alone, sometimes with friends and family. there was never any awkwardness or rancour. we talked with the same honesty as before. i think we recognised this was remarkable for two people who have just separated and perhaps thought even more highly of each other for it.

matteo’s family were amazingly welcoming to me. they invited me to easter lunch at their house, second only to the christmas meal. there were twenty people at table including three aunts and two uncles who’d come over from puglia, matteo’s brother and two sisters, his older sister’s husband and their two children. the meal was exquisite and continued without pause for four hours. knowing i didn’t eat meat matteo’s mother and aunts had been kind enough to prepare several dishes specially for me. the high point was roasted totani (pink-fleshed deep sea squid) stuffed with ricotta, mint and walnuts. sublime.

for the first time in all my years on stromboli i followed the island’s easter procession before lunch. this is a ritualised portrayal of mary’s reunion with the resurrected christ and a symbolic linking of the island’s two churches. at midday on easter sunday a statue of christ departs from the church of san vincenzo in scari on the shoulders of four men whilst a statue of the virgin leaves the church of san bartolo in piscita. each statue is preceded by banners, bells and chanting with a crowd of islanders following behind. with careful coordination the statues meet each other mid-way between the two churches. as they close the final gap each statue bows several times to the other. at the climactic moment when they come together mary’s tightly-closed robes are unbound to release doves or swallows which fly away having been secreted inside. after this the two statues proceed together to san bartolo where they are placed on pedestals and the priest ends the ceremony with a short address. it was a beautiful piece of theatre, much lighter than the hysterical mortifications of the easter spectacles i witnessed at trapani and marsala. photographs and film will follow.

irene did add a somewhat macabre edge to the story, explaining that the island’s children are pressed into service to stalk the island with nets and clubs the day before easter to catch the birds for hiding under mary’s robe. apparently the young hunters are prone to be a little over-enthusiastic in their efforts resulting in a proportion of the fowl being despatched to the great aviary in the sky before they can participate in the procession.

a couple of days after easter i spent the whole night on spiaggia lunga with salvo, renzo, luca and arianna. we were graced by one of the most spectacular meteorites i’ve ever seen. it arced across the sky in a shallow diagonal right the way to the horizon leaving a thick trail of sparkling light in its wake. we were left whooping in wide-eyed amazement. towards dawn i became completely absorbed watching as the colours of sea, sky and vegetation changed hue minute by minute. then as the sun rose dozens of swallows started to swoop in a circuit around us flying just a few centimetres above the surface of the sea. at the same time thousands to tiny white moths, just one or two millimetres across, appeared around us in a layer a metre above the black sand. none of us had ever seen anything like it before. i felt lucky; more than lucky.

following matteo’s request the island’s priest (don luciano da rico) very kindly gave me permission to play the organ in the church of san vincenzo which i’ve never done before. as we ascended the spiral steps to the dust-covered balcony i didn’t have great expectations of the ancient, rarely-played instrument. underneath the stops was a handwritten maintainer’s note dated 1917. the panting and wheezing emitted when i turned on the pump suggested this might have been the the date of its last service. the air pressure was irregular, one stop produced a sound like a car’s starter motor, several didn’t work at all and those that did work were erratic and outrageously out of tune. but despite this i completely fell in love with the instrument. the principals were chaffy and sweet. the quints were piquant and angular. the acoustic was thick but still intimate. best of all the unpredictable air pressure gave rise to a tremelo effect which sounded uncannily like a human flautist and changed with different combinations of keys. over three days i recorded several hours of improvisation. matteo joined in for some of it.

on my way to the island sergio mentioned that telecom italia was offering a cheap deal for data so i called them to active it. predictably, nothing happened. after several persistent calls to their support centre matteo managed to get it working. but the moment it was running i realised i had no wish to be connected to the internet and the cat’s cradle of services that interlace my urban routine. so i turned it off.

: c :

p h o t o s : may to november 2009

[ 00:55 monday 8 february – haggerston road ]

in the last nine months i’ve accumulated an intimidating backlog of slides waiting to be scanned and uploaded. in an effort to catch up here are four sets comprising seventy-six pictures:

volker’s barge, clapton to limehouse (v 2009) : 15 pictures
last visit to granny’s house (v 2009) : 14 pictures
fundacja techsoup, warsaw (v & xi 2009) : 9 pictures
london (v-xi 2009) : 38 pictures

one picture from each set posted below.
: c :

c a r a c a s

[ 17:49 thursday 31 december – bus from caracas to playa grande, venezuela ]

stuck in traffic at the edge of caracas airport with landing airliners passing low overhead. car horns and salsa music blare on every side, punctuated by the report of exploding fireworks as excitement builds towards new year. the sixteen seats of the bus are filled with people returning from a day in the city. around us the jungle-clad mountains are hung with sullen clouds as the tropical twilight quickens towards darkness.

i flew into caracas airport yesterday afternoon and immediately threw myself into a battle to find a seat on one of the two light aircraft crossing to the island of gran roque. my friend matias lives on a miniscule islet called rasqui, where there is no mains electricity or water, which is located in the same archipelago. there’s no way to contact him but he’s expecting me in the next few days. it proved impossible to get a seat for today but the application of a modest bribe secured me space on a flight leaving caracas at half past seven tomorrow morning. it will curtail my new year festivities but i find myself blithely unconcerned about that. from gran roque i’ll find someone with a boat willing to take me over to rasqui.

after a sublime ten-hour sleep (having had none on tuesday night) at a small hotel near the airport i spent today exploring caracas with a young french yachtsman called adrien whom i met at the airport. he got a seat on the same flight as me to join his friends and their yacht at gran roque. he’s an excellent fellow adventurer.

the first thing that struck me about caracas is that there are no tourists. during seven hours today we saw a total of three. this has the benefit that the usual poor-country ecosystem of aggressive touts and “guides” is also absent. it also means that we are wildly conspicuous. people stare at us everywhere we go. in general people are very kind and solicitous. every few minutes someone comes up and warns us that walking around in whatever area where we are is dangerous. the second thing that struck me is the ubiquity of enormous posters featuring the ever-grinning mr chavez accompanied by revolutionary slogans.

this evening adrien and i will follow our noses and seek some entertaining dive in which to celebrate. then it’ll be time to catch a few hours’ sleep and begin the next stage of the journey. this will probably be my final despatch until i return from the island.

in the meantime, feliz ano.

: c :

f a c c i e

[ 08:58 monday 28 september – bus from central palermo to punta raisi airport, sicilia ]

it’s touch and go whether i’ll make my flight back to london. i got to the station quarter of an hour early for my 8:09 train. after twenty minutes it struck me as odd that the station was swarming with people, predominantly school children, but i hadn’t seen a single train. this seemed ominous for peak time on a monday morning. arrivals were being announced and passengers advised to stand back from the edge of the platform but no trains were materialising.

i asked an old man on the platform who said “if the train doesn’t come, maybe the next one will” which was admirably philosophical but not exactly reassuring. 8:09 came and went. then the indicator board mysteriously went blank and details for the 8:39 appeared on the next platform. i searched out an official who apologised that there was a strike and all trains were cancelled.

once i would have felt irritated that no signs had been put out, no announcements made, to warn travelers of the situation. but my relationship with sicily has reached a point where i accept her foibles, perhaps even feel affection for them. so i simply rushed outside and got a seat in the half-hourly bus which runs from the station to the airport.

that was half an hour ago. this is the peak of the morning rush hour and we’re still battling through the palermo streets towards the autostrada. my chances of reaching the airport before check-in closes are evenly balanced.

i flew into trapani last saturday with sergio and spent several days there with his family. then on tuesday i journeyed to milazzo and took wednesday morning’s first hydrofoil to stromboli. the crew told me a scirocco was rising from the south-east and they were uncertain if they’d be able to dock. indeed there was a large sea running by the time we reached the island three hours later. but they managed to come alongside just long enough for me to leap off.

that was the last boat to dock until saturday. within an hour the waves were crashing down on the quay. there’s a special atmosphere on the island when it’s cut off like this. nobody arrives, nobody leaves. then after two days the wind and sea shifted ninety degrees and a maestrale came up from the north-east. now the waves pounded spiaggia lunga whilst scari and the quay fell into the lea of the island. stromboli was re-connected to the outside world.

yesterday afternoon as i was packing my bags the wind shifted back to the south-east and waves began to lick the sides of the quay again. one of the two companies running hydrofoils to stromboli cancelled their services. but my boat managed to come alongside. the hydrofoil was pitching and lurching alarmingly as we ran up the gangplank. it was the roughest i’ve seen anyone dock there.

the journey back to milazzo was quite an adventure. every few minutes the forward foils would catch a wave and the bow would slam down sending torrents of water over the cabin. i have the greatest admiration for the siremar crews. they continue to operate these machines masterfully under conditions in which most would stay in port. we reached milazzo right on time and i caught the last train to palermo.

it was eleven in the evening when i arrived in palermo. after my time on stromboli and with sergio in trapani i was expecting palermo to be the anti-climax of the trip. but sicily blessed me with one last surprise and i found myself in the chaos of a religious festival in the quarter where i was staying. a huge statue of the madonna was being carried through the streets by young men with priests and white-robed women carrying candles in front and two fifty-piece brass bands following behind. every twenty metres a handbell would ring, the statue would be set down and one of the bearers would shout invocations at the statue at the top of his voice to be affirmed by the rest of the bearers with an impassioned cry of “viva maria!”. all the while the bands kept playing, one alternating with the other to save the musicians from complete exhaustion. it was incredibly moving, there were moments when i had tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.

dangling my camera, video camera and audio recorder from various limbs i threw myself into the thick of the procession. it took an hour passing down via roma before pausing and turning into piazza sant’anna. the piazza was blazing with ornate festal arches studded with coloured lights. as the procession entered a welter of fireworks commenced which rose to a deafening crescendo. fragments of burning carboard began to rain down and people started retreating nervously before a series of huge explosions marked its finale. the statue passed into the small plain church of maria of the mercede. there was an awkward moment when it came off the ramp to its resting place at the alter, triggering a thrill of terror that some harbinger of bad fortune was about to transpire, then a final heave restored her to her resting place and everyone relaxed.

i ate a carton of panelli on the street, drank a few glasses of rum at the tiny bar “monkey” on the piazza where i met some friendly musicians, then it was time for me to retire and get a few hours’ sleep.

thus sicily continually tests me and shows me her different faces. it is a place, a people, where i find a vividness and intensity of life that raises me above myself.

we are on the autostrada now. i think i will reach the airport in time.

: c :

r i v e r b o r n e

[ 18:56 sunday 2 august – river stort, roydon, essex ]

sitting in the saloon of volker’s barge as the evening sun filters through the trees and sparkles on the river outside. it’s an old dutch barge to which a superstructure was added in the seventies. there’s lots of light and space. most of the time volker lives on a mooring at springfield marina on the river lea at clapton in east london. when he gets sick of london he just unties and takes the boat somewhere else for a week or two. in the nineteenth century railways were often built close to the routes of canals constucted in the eighteenth century. as a result it’s generally possible for volker to moor close to a station and commute back to london for his work lecturing at university college london. it’s an excellent way to accommodate elements of nomadism within the vicissitudes of urban life.

yesterday afternoon i took a train through the grimy north london suburbs and out to cheshunt in hertfordshire. from there a short bike ride brought me to the river and volker’s boat. we chugged upriver for the next few hours. the leaden sky became progressively heavier and heavier as we went. finally they opened and unleashed a downpour. volker sprang out on the foredeck and scrubbed it down in the rain, getting soaked in the process. i always loved to be by water in the rain.

near hoddesdon we turned onto the river stort which quickly became narrower and wilder. many of britain’s rivers were canalised in the late eighteenth century. in some cases the natural character of the river survives more or less intact. in others the imposition of man was more intense and the river feels like an artificial creation. we went a little way then moored under some trees. then we walked a little way to a secluded lake where we stripped and swam. it was bliss.

this morning we continued up to roydon in essex until a modern railway bridge thwarted us. the coach-house roof was just a couple of centimetres too high to pass beneath. we considered inviting some plump fellows from a pub to clamber aboard or opening the cocks and letting water into the bilge to lower the boat so we could pass beneath. but finally we admitted defeat, moored by the railway station and continued our exploration by bike. by this time the sky had cleared and the sun was shining so it was a pleasure to unhitch our bikes from the taffrail and set off across the fields.

we just returned to the boat and opened a couple of peronis. later this evening i’ll get the train back to london.

this trip marks my first outing with a new solid state video camera i had shipped from tokyo. it’s been interesting to use it in parallel with my stills camera. it will take a while for me to develop habits and style with it but already i find myself starting to parse subjects for still or moving capture. it will be interesting to see the results back in london.

: c :

a m e r i k a n a

[ 17:09 thursday 26 march – virgin flight 11, london to boston ]

arcing across the ice floes towards nova scotia the cabin crew distributes a meal they badge as “breakfast” or “a light snack” depending on the time of day. today the latter. the meals are identical either way. inflight time has a structure and grammar of its own, blithe to the daily cycle of hamlets and cities far beneath.

each time i cross the north atlantic i’m fascinated by the changing character of the sea ice. at the moment i’m seeing it frequently enough to start discerning its language of structure and motion telling the seasons as surely as the cycle of buds, leaves and blossoms with which i’m more familiar. the monolithic expanses of white i saw a month ago are now fractured and stretches of blue are beginning to gaping amidst them. from my vantage point eleven kilometres in the air patterns become evident. as patches of ice become detached from a larger body and float out into open water they form T-shaped units with graceful curlicues at the branches. these units sometimes form convoys, each element smaller than its predecessor. flying, whilst destructive, permits us to appreciate aspects of the earth’s beauty that are otherwise imperceivable.

this is my fourth trip to the united states since the start of the year. the first was in mid-january, immediately following my return from egypt, when i travelled to san diego to give a talk and receive an award for trampoline. the weather was serene and sunny but i was obliged to spend all but a few minutes inside a conference hall. from san diego i flew to san francisco to attend meetings. i was staying with shemoel so each evening when my trampoline work was complete we recorded songs and experimented with different ways of combining acoustic and electronic sound elements. one day we drove up to point reyes to meet sara winge at the home of bart hopkin, a friend of hers who invents instruments. bart showed us some of his creations, which ranged from a plucked string instrument with strings were connected in triangles to wind instruments where corrugated tubing was used to generate standing waves. shemoel demonstrated one of his sound sculptures and we showed how live processing frameworks such as max/msp can be combined with micro-controllers such as arduino to create extended instruments. after that we all played together for a couple of hours, a delicious mass of filigree sounds.

the second trip was in february when i travelled over to long beach with emma and james to give a talk about one click organisations at the bil conference. bil was conceived as a parallel-universe ted with a focus on new thinking but with open access and free entry in contrast to ted’s exclusivity and expense. i caught half a day of the very first bil in monterey last year on quinn’s advice and this year i was eager to attend the whole thing. the organisers gave me the second slot in the main hall, following a talk about privacy by brad templeton. i’d decided not to use slides but changed my mind at the last minute and threw together a deck during brad’s talk. it was a lovely event. i particularly enjoyed meeting the folks behind the noisebridge hacker space in san francisco, who drove down en masse. also a young photographer called michael strout with a great talent for lighting, who did a shoot with me in the courtyard. mitch altman was there with his brain machine glasses. they flash leds over one’s eyes and buzz into one’s ears at carefully calculated frequencies which change over a twenty minute cycle. the effect is most peculiar, one is gradually drawn into a meditative state and begins to hallucinate colours and patterns. mitch also invented the magnificent “tv b gone” remote control. entering a japanese restaurant with him on the final evening in long beach the two giant tv screens mysteriously deactivated themselves leaving us and our friends to converse in peace. on the way back to london i stopped in san francisco for one night to see shemoel. we recorded a couple of songs and decided to call our project “the dupio”.

my third trip was at the beginning of march when i came over to boston and cambridge for some trampoline meetings. it was bright and clear for the first couple of days, though there was still snow on the ground. i drove out to point halibut and traversed the jumbled granite boulders around the coast. it was hard going but this is a terrain i know and love from cornwall and the isles of scilly. the trick is to keep one’s momentum up, trust one’s instincts and resist the temptation to think about it. in a way this has become a metaphor for how i live. there is a pleasure in sensing the angles of each rock in turn and allowing oneself to ricochet from one to the next. on the third day there was a snowstorm which i enjoyed mightily. i found my way to a noisecore show at tufts university where one of the bands dressed as giant rats. i heard a performance by a minimalist cellist called jeremy harman and we got together to play the next day. late one evening i visited mako hill in somerville to better understand his position on zero-cost duplication and swap notes on web music services. he was very impressive.

this fourth trip is to attend foo east at microsoft’s research centre in cambridge. having been invited to last summer’s event in sebastopol i wasn’t expecting another chance so i was flattered to receive the invitation. i may talk about any of organisational analytics, emergent structure, one click organisations and live processing. i’m also bringing some musical kit with me so it’ll be possible to do a session with reaktor if i can interest anyone in that.

: c :